* Second of two parts.
“Bait? What do you mean ‘bait?’” Esteban asked. “That sounds
dangerous. Why do I have to be the bait?”
The rest of us looked up at the sky, checked the knots in our
shoelaces, and did anything to avoid eye contact. No one wanted to
tell Esteban that as the shortest, pudgiest and prissiest of the five
of us, he was clearly the most, well, bait-like. But if he kept
asking, one of us was going to have to.
It was our first mission as the Fabulous Fighters, and for a while
there, everything was proceeding according to my plans. When I had
asked Esteban to walk a few feet ahead of us, he happily assumed, as
I’d expected him to, that I was simply acknow- ledging his natural
status as leader of the band.
Then stupid Buck had to say the word “bait” in his typically loud
voice, and the jig was up, especially as he had said it in the
context of “So, what are we gonna do when they start socking the
“I’m slowing down,” Esteban said firmly, stopping in his tracks.
“I’m older than Little Greg, so he should be the bait.”
Buck walked up to me and said, “Seriously, what are we gonna do if
“Nothing’s gonna happen,” I said. “Who’s gonna try to mess with
five of us walking together? And besides, you’ve got those rocks in
And just as I was telling Buck not to be such a worrier, a big,
thuggish-looking kid stepped out of nowhere, walked right past Buck
and me, and threatened Esteban.
“Gimme your money, punk,” he demanded. “And don’t give me any
pennies or nickels -- I want folding money.”
Esteban’s eyes widened with terror, and he started looking around
at his fellow Fabulous Fighters for help. But suddenly we weren’t the
Fabulous Fighters anymore.
Suddenly we were a bunch of little kids who had the misfortune of
listening to one of my crazy ideas.
Esteban began to blubber. “I ... I ... don’t ha-have any m-m-money
“Yeah, you do!” the goon shouted, stepping forward and grabbing
Esteban’s T-shirt by the collar. The guy was at least a foot taller
than me, and I was the tallest of my friends.
“Gimme your money!” he demanded again, shaking Esteban by the
“Let him go,” Buck said quietly.
The goon turned to Buck, his fist still gripping Esteban’s
T-shirt. “Oh yeah? Says who?”
“Says this rock in my hand,” Buck said, showing him the big,
pointy rock in his right fist. “Let him go.”
“Yeah, let him go,” I said at last. Buck’s sudden onslaught of
courage had jarred me out of my paralysis.
“Yeah, let him go, punk! We’re not afraid of you!” Little Greg
shouted, and made a sudden flurry of karate-chop gestures in the air.
The big kid looked from Greg to Buck and to me and started
laughing. This wasn’t the reaction any of us expected. For some
reason, our show of unity had utterly failed to impress him.
“Hey! What’s going on here?” an adult voice boomed.
An old man in a business suit walked past me and up to the big
kid. “Are you OK, kid?” He turned to my friends and me. “Leave this
poor kid alone, you creeps! Go on! Get out of here!”
Unbelievably, the man had seen the big kid standing in the middle
of the five of us, and assumed we were attacking him. A
misunderstanding that would have really bothered me, had I not seen
it as an opportunity to live to fight another day.
“Run!” I shouted, and with that, the Fabulous Fighters turned on
our heels and ran for our lives.
We ran for six blocks, convinced the goon was right on our heels
when, in fact, he hadn’t even bothered to chase us. We finally
stopped running in front of Little Greg’s house, and collapsed on his
front lawn. After we caught our breaths, a single thought occurred to
all of us at the same time.
“We did it!” I shouted. “We stopped that mugger cold!”
“Yeah!” Little Greg stood up and made another karate-chop gesture.
“We’re heroes!” And we all began to hoot and cheer and give each
“We really showed him!” Esteban cried. “Did you see how I lured
that punk in?”
“What’s going on?” a voice sounded from behind us. It was Little
Greg’s older brother, Mike.
Before I could tell Greg not to say anything, he spilled the
beans. He told him all about the formation of the Fabulous Fighters
and how on our first mission we had saved Esteban from being mugged.
Even before he had finished, Mike was almost rolling on the ground
“I don’t see what’s so funny,” I said indignantly. Suddenly, Mike
“Let me tell you what’s not funny,” he said, jabbing his finger
into my chest. “It’s what I’m gonna do to you if you ever put my
brother in danger like that again!”
“Oh yeah?” I said. “You can’t tell us what to do! We’re the
“Wait here a minute,” Mike said, and walked across the street to
his house. A few minutes later, he came back with his older brothers,
Mark and Tom. Mark and Tom were laughing so hard, tears were running
down their faces.
“Allow us to introduce ourselves,” Mike said. “We’re the Fabulous
Fighter Beater- uppers.”
And with that, they beat us up. It wasn’t a horrible beating --
just enough to make us all beg for mercy and run home in tears.
It was also a big enough humiliation to put a permanent end to our
crime-fighting days. No matter how hard I tried to get the group back
together -- “We’d call ourselves the Fabulous Fighter Beater-upper
Beater-uppers!” -- no one was listening to Mr. Fabulous anymore. Soon
the entire episode passed into memory. Well, an embarrassing memory,
anyway, since Mike would tease us about it for years to come.
Eventually I got over my anger at Mike, and he and I ended up
becoming best friends. But I would never forget the days -- OK, the
one afternoon -- when my comrades and I shook off the bonds of fear
and set out to make the world safe for little kids everywhere. And to
this day, I’ll sometimes read a disturbing news report of some act of
criminal mayhem, and wistfully remember our long-ago battle cry:
“Five for one and one for five! The Fabulous Fighters have
* DAVID SILVA, a Burbank resident and former Leader city editor,
is an editor for Times Community News.